But not only is it development season, it's also summer-show season. And they've been premiering like crazy little rabbits. If you're a viewer watching these shows, you might be thinking, "Wow, a lot of jobs for people in H-wood." You'd be partly wrong. A goodly number of these shows were either produced entirely in Canada, or South America. Yes, you read that right -- South America. This is the studios' attempt to save money and stick a knife in the backs of the unions. Have they succeeded? Well... not exactly. These shows aren't blowing the doors off the ratings machine. But then that means the studios lose LESS money. So compared to losing MORE money when they have to pay writers and crews a living wage (actors are still American, except for the Canadian ones), it's a win for the studios and a loss for the rest of us. And for all the jobs lost by American writers, it's a hundred times MORE for crew members. They gave us a lot of misplaced shit during the strike, but that doesn't mean I'm at all happy to see all their jobs sent to Canada or South America. Oh, Canada... you quiet, polite America's hat... you've finally found a way to completely screw our business. See, studio execs still get paid. Producers still get paid, and they get even MORE frenzied about making Canadian content shows. But if the show is Canadian content, that means it's Canadians who make it. And that isn't good for any of us.
That aside, there's a strange similarity amongst all of the summer shows. It's tone. Literally every promo or ad I see could represent five other shows. It's the summer of the seemingly quirky procedural. There aren't any dark shows, of course. It's summer! Everybody wants sunshiny shows with oddballs who share witty bon-mots! But... ALL of them? Really? I'm wondering if this is some kind of a contest, where every town must be represented by a quirky procedural. If so, we're going to have a winner soon.
So when you're pitching shows, you kind of have to keep this stuff in mind. Because if something's doing well right now, odds are the studios and networks are going to want... that. Before all this crazy summer programming, networks had to kind of wing it. Their fall shows wouldn't premiere until fall, so they had to figure out what they were going to want after those shows either succeed or fail. They had to essentially time travel (but don't try to SELL them time travel. Are you insane??). But maybe they aren't going to do that as much this year. Networks are just starting to open. Let's see what happens.
The procedural, witty or not, is still the go-to show for any network. Unfortunately, there are 65,456 of them on right now, and half of those are on USA. Yes, USA, the hit machine. Everything they put on works which is awesome... until it comes time to hear pitches. USA pitches really need to thread the needle. They have to be in the network's wheelhouse, but they also have to be different enough from the shows they have on. It's tricky. And that's even aside from the fact that I don't know one writer who wants to be pitching procedurals anymore. But it's not about what WE want. It's about what THEY want. So the trick is to find something you love within these parameters.
This leads writers to think about the wild settings in which they can put their quirky characters: A former pageant queen does security for a big hotel; A roller derby star is a bounty hunter; An orchestra conductor solves his cop brother's murder in a planned community. It's easy to get caught up in procedural roulette. But they hear five billion of these. And I always like to go back to the basics, back to what works. One of the best character introduction scenes ever was in the X-Files pilot. Which I just happen to have here (hopefully this works):
This is a masterclass in how to introduce your characters, their different ideologies, and your series in one economical scene. And unfortunately, it seems to be kind of rare these days. People are getting lost in the slickness of their shows, the desire to always out-hip themselves and everyone else. Now we've got the annoying, jittery camera work, the pointless push-ins that have NOTHING classical about them, the utter lack of rhythm to the editing. I miss the moments. The simplicity. I think all of this other crap is making television shows look like YouTube videos shot on some dude's Nano. These shows cost money, but they look cheap. And they sound even worse. What happened to scoring TeeVee shows? Now, all I hear is some vague, skittering nonsense that sounds like it was made in Garage Band. The thing about a show like The X-Files is, it holds up. And I'm not sure most of the stuff we're seeing now is going to hold up. The classics work for a reason, gentle readers.
So thank God for X-Files alumni like Vince Gilligan, who brings all of that to Breaking Bad. At least there's ONE class show on the air.
Belated thanks for the comments on my Zenyatta post. I've been watching racing for a long time and I've just never seen anything like her. It's a real treat being able to see her up close. And touch her, every once in awhile!
Stephen Gallagher wrote about The Phantom:
It's not shallow to say you have to get the look right before almost anything else. Comics are a visual medium and the visual impact leads. The look of the early superheroes was largely based on the costuming of acrobats and circus strongmen and made a kind of contemporary sense. The usual move in modernising involves reinterpreting the same look as some kind of logical body armor.
The Phantom's new look was like a cross between the bomb disposal suits in THE HURT LOCKER and those bootleg soft-toy Power Rangers you'd see as sideshow prizes in seaside towns.
Ditto everything you said. And it's nice to find another fan of the Billy Zane movie! I don't think any writer could have cracked this, frankly. The entire miniseries struggled against the update.
From the lovely Phantom-fan Cunningham:
Re: The Phantom - I'm a big opponent of the idea of body armor and costumes that 'augment' the actor's physique with padding (I'm thinking primarily of THE FLASH and BATMAN here). To sum up - it's Super MAN, not Super COSTUME.
I love that he was 2 1/2 times stronger. Well, THAT'S random. The costume was a huge mistake. And you're right; it makes anyone special. So why did they need Kit, then? Nobody believes in The Ghost Who Walks anymore, so the whole "legacy" thing means nothing. I've been working on an idea with a legacy element and because of these missteps, I've been REALLY focusing on why this particular person. I find it curious that the network let this go with such a weak explanation.
And thanks to folks who sent the LA Times article on Knight & Day. Seems like people who are going to see the film are having the good time they're supposed to have, which is great. What's interesting about the article is that the development of Knight & Day sounds an awful lot like the development of a TeeVee show. Mangold was the showrunner and all of these writers functioned as his staff. I understand that there were people who were pissed off that they didn't get screenplay credit. But coming from TeeVee, I kind of like what happened here. Although there are certain megalomaniac showrunners and higher-level folks who like to add their names to scripts, a truly good showrunner won't do that. The showrunner's job is to shepherd the script, not to take money and credit away from another writer. The best showrunners I've worked with don't do this. And if feature writers or directors are doing the work with the expectation that they'll get screenplay credit, well... I'm not sure I agree with that, either. In a writer's room, other writers polish scripts. But if you start down the road of wrestling for credit, then you end up with a competitive, backstabbing writer's room and that doesn't work for anyone.
But in features, this is just how it's done. And the development of Knight & Day doesn't sound that torturous to me, actually. It just sounds like development, and it did yield a super-fun movie that doesn't feel like the usual hodge-podge of styles and ideas. So mission accomplished. I do have to wonder, though, about all the lousy movies that have come out this summer and why there aren't articles on THEIR torturous development or list of writers and drafts. Why was Knight & Day singled out? Maybe people heard that and went, "Wow, SO not seeing that." Or do people just not care if The A-Team had fifty writers on it, because they know it's going to suck anyway?
There's a point at which a movie HAS to have a vision or a guiding hand. And in this case, it was James Mangold. For most of these movies, nobody seems to be minding the store. Maybe the more relevant article is about when development DOESN'T work.
"It's America's fault, frankly." That's a little harsh. Using that line of reasoning then pretty much every product failure is the fault of the consumer not the marketer. New Coke failed? It's America's fault. The Edsel failed? It's America's fault. Could Knight and Day's failure possibly not be the fault of America but maybe the fault of studio executives who were oversold on the star power of Cruise and Diaz? Times change and so do public tastes in film and film stars. That said, I'll have to agree that Knight and Day was a great movie although I grew up watching Cruise and, to a lesser extent, Diaz movies so I was presold.
It's certainly a combination of factors but I DO blame America for not going to see it and going to see shitty movies instead. I also blame the critics. When I overhear people saying, "I hear that movie's no good," well... where are they "hearing" that? They're not saying that Aunt Flo saw it and didn't like it. They're going by their local papers and the Internet reviews. And yes, I DO know MANY people who are swayed by the reviews in their local papers. Even though y'all don't do that, it sure doesn't mean that the country isn't doing it. Because they ARE. Not everybody is on Twitter or Facebook. Knight & Day wasn't made for the usual audience -- twelve-year-old boys. Of course THEY don't read reviews. But the audience that movie WAS made for? They read 'em. It's not the people who just plain didn't go see the film who bug me. It's the folks who went to see some shitty movie instead, and then they complain about how much movies suck.
When A Little Princess came out, there was an article in the LA Times bemoaning the lack of family films. On the very next page was an article about how nobody was going to see A Little Princess. The movie business is certainly at fault in some respects but so are people who want to be entertained but then go see lousy movies, while ignoring the good ones. Look, we go through this all the time, with movies and with TeeVee shows. And it's never going to change. But when a good movie comes out and nobody goes to see it and THEN it gets destroyed in the press and people giggle about what an asshole Tom Cruise is, well... I want to say something.
So I've said something.
I still need to talk about Doctor Who, but that's going to take a very long rant that will no doubt be incredibly unpopular and divisive, so I need some time to prepare.